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Trish Silva votes for the first time in Athens since moving from Rhode Island at Clarke Elementary School in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. (Photo/Caroline Barnes, caroline.barnes3710@gmail.com)

Last November’s election was anything but ordinary. Aside from the heated gubernatorial race, there were issues about voting -- from registration to election night -- and a number of issues came about across the state.

Under particular scrutiny were Georgia’s polling machines, which are 16 years old. November saw breakdowns of these machines, as well as battery depletion and a lack of power chords. Not only that, but these outdated machines were proven to be hackable and left no sort of paper trail.

House Bill 316 looks to address these problems by implementing new voting machines in the state.

Sebastian Puerta, Vineet Raman and Kate Ayers are co-directors of UGAVotes, a non-partisan organization that assists students through the voting process, and they enumerated on these issues.

“Georgia’s a stand out for not having a paper trail, using a completely electronic system. So, I think having a paper trail ensures electoral safety,” Puerta said.

Raman mentioned that paper trails were favorable to electoral experts, saying information kept in computers can be easily corrupted. He also referenced the panel recommendation that fueled the bill and how the lone cybersecurity expert recommended a paper trail.

“Georgia is very behind the times in its antiquated infrastructure for voting,” Raman said.

The machines will still be touchscreen like the current ones are, but they will print a paper receipt of the voter’s ballot. Charlotte Sosebee, director of elections and voter registration in Athens-Clarke County, said the receipts give voters the opportunity to see how they voted prior to tabulation.

“Our voters would have the opportunity to know what they’re voting, prior to tabulation, so it will give them a visual rather than just doing it from a screen,” Sosebee said.

“Rockdale [Country] piloted this same voting process in 2017, and to my understanding, they had some really good remarks from it … the poll workers were pleased with it — staff was — as well as the voters. The things that they didn’t like were having to go back to the DREs [Direct Recording Electronic machines],” Sosebee also said.

ACC was one of the last counties to submit its tabulations in the previous election. This was due to the slow process of counting absentee ballots, which had to be done by hand. Sosebee said a new tabulator is also included in this purchase of new machines, which could help the process move along faster.

Should this bill be passed, Sosebee said these machines could be in use by the SPLOST referendum on Nov 5. ACC would hold a mock election beforehand for voters of Athens-Clarke to become accustomed to the new machines.

As of Feb. 19, the bill passed its second reading.

In addition to updated voting machines, the bill also addresses other voting-related issues. One is the issue of inconsistent signatures on absentee ballots, which caused them to be thrown out. The new bill provides for a provisional absentee ballot to be submitted to alleviate the discrepancy.

“We helped over 1,000 people complete absentee ballot applications, and there were a few that get rejected based on signature mismatches,” Raman said. “So this bill actually sets forth a protocol to address that, so that there’s less confusion, and it actually requires the registrar to send the ballot regardless and figure out the signature issue later.”

The bill also addresses the “exact match” policy, which caused around 53,000 registrations to be held last year. The bill requires registrars to first ensure the error falls on the board of registrars and not the voter. If the voter made the error, they must be notified. If the error is not amended within 26 months, the board of registrars will then send a final notice between 30-60 days of termination.

“A lot of voter registrations were put on hold or just rejected if names didn’t match up with what one person entered versus what the state had in its databases,” Raman said. “This bill puts the onus of the burden on the state to make sure it wasn’t their fault … because that exact name match thing was very problematic.”

The bill addresses the time in which a polling location may change in relation to the election day, and the bill extends the length of time for which voters risk being purged.

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